Summaries


ISSUE 26
Untitled

26 cover This, the untitled last "regular" issue of Planetary, features a cover with a jigsaw pattern superimposed, a purposeful Elijah Snow holding the last piece. Given the breadth and scope of mysteries that Planetary has uncovered since its introduction in 1999, the cover may be overselling things a bit. All puzzles are not solved this issue; perhaps Ellis will tie up a few more loose ends for us in Issue 27, which Ellis has referred to as an "an aftermath issue that tops off the series." But if discovering the identity of the Fourth Man was the puzzle that dominated the first half of the series, the puzzle that dominated the second half was the battle with The Four. And before the issue ends, Snow's battle against The Four is finally settled.

The story appears to begin very closely, perhaps within minutes or hours, to the end of last issue. A still-bloody device sits on a conference table, and Drummer explains that it's the Four's communication device found inside John Stone. A strangely calm Snow tells Drummer to make the device work so that he might talk to Randall Dowling of The Four. Snow indicates that he's been reviewing everything the team knows and has done, and developed a simple plan.

With the device activated, Snow tells Dowling that he wants to meet. Snow asks for all of Dowling's science and information. Dowling, audibly amused by the request, asks what he would receive in return. Suddenly more serious, Snow lays out a forceful case for Dowling's compliance: Jacob Greene and William Leather are dead, and he's prepared to do the same to Kim Suskind; Anna Hark has joined him; and all survivors and descendants of Science City Zero, with their myriad superhuman powers, are now his private army. Dowling does not reply.

Snow then changes his negotiation tactics by offering Dowling the location of the shiftship (seen in Issue 4, Strange Harbours), as well as a pledge of non-interference when Dowling's other-earth benefactors invade this earth. Snow then takes a surprising position of superiority, telling Dowling that none of The Four's machinations matter, that Dowling is a small thing of borrowed power to him and can be killed at any time. Clearly not knowing what to make of Snow's message, Dowling agrees to meet Snow at the remote diner near Death Valley (where Jakita Wagner first recovered Snow after his memory-block-induced exile in Issue 1).

A this point, Snow reveals the conceptual underpinning of his conversation with Dowling to Jakita and Drummer, explaining that it was designed to prey on Dolwing's insecurity and fear of being inferior to those born with special abilities. The conversation was a way to goad Dowling into the open, even though it's understood that Dowling will try to kill him. But, not giving everything away, Snow simply says he has a secret buried very deep out in the desert that will help him in the confrontation.

The scene shifts to the desert, where Drummer is uncharacteristically present (given his long-standing aversion to fieldwork, first revealed in Issue 1) with Snow at the meeting site. As Dowling and Suskind levitate down from their ship, they ask Drummer to move away while they scan Snow for "devices." Confirming Snow is clean, they hand him a device of their own, the one that contains their accumulated science and knowledge of the secret history of the world. After Drummer verifies its authenticity, Snow directs him to return it to Jakita, and then Snow is alone with the two remaining members of The Four.

Clearly confident, and feeling he possesses the upper hand, Dowling opts to engage Snow in a conversation. Snow, equally at ease, criticizes Dowling for withholding science and selling out the planet, then offers him the opportunity to help Snow with planetary defense. Dowling is unmoved, citing the millions of earths in the multiverse, thereby minimizing the import of the loss of this one. Snow changes his offer to an ultimatum: help or die. Dowling, undaunted, lays out Snow's position as he sees it: unable to use his powers of heat subtraction before Dowling gets into his brain (thought the nature of this, and Dowling's power, is still not fully explained), and unable to mount a weapon-based attack (since he scanned clean), and, if all else was to fail, Dowling could return to his ship to escape.

Here, Snow announces that his trap for Dowling has already been sprung. When Snow handed off The Four's storage device to Drummer, Drummer slipped him a device that locally distorts informational space. That device has been activated and is cutting of Dowling from his ship and, further, has rendered Suskind's special goggles useless, making it impossible for her to use her power of invisibility. Snow concludes by stating that only one form of communication works at their location, and then says a single word: door.

As a strange doorway appears behind Snow and he disappears, Dowling and Suskind realize that the one piece of knowledge that Snow had and they did not was the location of the shiftship that crashed to earth millennia ago. To late, the realize the significance of their location. The ground falls away beneath them and they plunge to their deaths, as the shiftship that Jim Wilder visited in Issue 4 dematerializes from it's buried location under the meeting site and reappears in the sky above.

The scene shifts to the bridge of the shiftship, with Wilder at the helm and Snow standing nearby. After collecting Dowling and Suskind's corpses, the team rides the shiftship across the bleed and to the alternate earth that gave The Four their powers. There, they dump the bodies along with a recorded message telling the planet's inhabitants that our earth is no longer theirs for the taking, and that any incursion will result in their planet being tossed into the bleed... or their universe being deleted outright from the informational structure of the multiverse.

Back ship-side, Snow talks to Jakita and explains that their work is just beginning, that they have to share The Fours technology, that they have more still to discover, and that there's one more loose end to be attended to. After that, they will spend their long lives on the strange world they love, keeping it that way.


Analysis
How do you end a series? Okay, now how do you end a series with the scale and scope of Planetary? How do you pull all of the disparate threads together into a cohesive, satisfying conclusion? Did Ellis deliver on the promise of the series? Let's take a look.

On the face of things, the issue seemed pretty simple. Snow antagonizes Dowling into a meeting. Dowling shows up and, through overconfidence and sloppiness, is outmaneuvered. Snow plays his shiftship trump-card. Dowling is surprisingly unable to mount any defense whatsoever, and dies. Snow (presumably) pre-empts a near-future invasion with a threatening recording.

That's it?

That's it.

But under the hood, there was really quite a bit going on, and this story was heavily plugged into many things that have gone before. Consider the threads pulled from prior issues into this one, and the way old themes and information coalesced to give Snow a surprisingly elegant solution to a very difficult problem. Consider the source material to Snow's plan, viewed through the lens of issue-by-issue revelations and clues:

The Preview Issue: Nuclear Spring
Even the short, introductory Preview issue can be said to have had an impact on this issue's conclusions:

  • The Preview introduced us to the power of information as the key to our universe, as David Paine used Description Theory to rewrite his own personal reality, "literally reach(ing) behind the scenes and monkey(ing) with the universe." This thread was expanded upon later in the series, and seen here as Snow used a device to create a localized distortion of informational space.
  • The Preview issue also introduced us to the concept the Drummer is a natural anti-surveillance device, a critical element to Snow's trap for Dowling this issue. Though Dowling was aware of the effect Drummer had on his equipment, his concern was limited to the moment of his arrival at the rendezvous point this issue. That bit of sloppiness was something Snow counted on to gain the advantage, and it worked.

Issue 1: All Over The World
The first issue set up many things that came to fruition this issue:

  • Snow was found near the location of the hidden shiftship--not a coincidence, as we now know.
  • We were introduced to the concept that Drummer didn't go on field missions, a fact that made it's contradiction this issue a clue that Snow had something up his sleeve. (It calls into question the Drummer's presence on the Preview mission, but one could argue that the role he played there was critical and, after all, the narrative structure required his introduction, didn't it?).
  • We were introduced to the Snowflake as a model of the multiverse, and to the concept of the Bleed as a medium by which the different universes described by the Snowflake could be accessed.
  • Given the goals of Brass' group in creating their Snowflake, the notion that reality could be rewritten behind the scenes was again present.
  • We also learn of Snow's age, a precursor to the later revelation of the whole Century Baby concept. This concept turns out to have been a prime motivation point for Dowling, who sought similar powers for himself, and it was used as part of the plan to antagonize him into accepting the meeting this issue.
  • We saw the threat that residents of other earths could represent, as Doc Brass and his crew fought off an invasion force of super-beings (an event Snow referenced in his message to our would-be conquerors, when he claimed that we had learned to fend off Bleed attacks over 50 years ago).

Issue 2: Island
We were introduced Snow's smoking habit, something that he did "every couple of years." He became a chain smoker over the course of this series, and this issue we saw him decide to quit. While not a critical plot element this issue, it underscores the general point that Ellis really considered the older material this issue.

Issue 3: Dead Gunfighters
The Ghost Cop's take on the nature of life and death added a new wrinkle to information theory, with its stack of "human hard drives" and the absence of an afterlife as it's commonly understood. Snow referenced this when trying to get Dowling to meet with him this issue, as it was something that he knew (or at least hoped) would be beyond Dowling's experience--something that would therefore pique Dowling's interest, or tweak his ego.

Issue 4: Strange Harbours
Issue 4 introduced us to the shiftship seen this issue, and laid the groundwork for Anna Hark's involvement, Jim Wilder's transformation, and the subsequent contribution to the trap Snow used this issue. The thread that nearly everyone anticipated, that Wilder would get his crew, was satisfied. And it was done so in a way that had a huge impact on this final issue. That Jakita wasn't part of the crew might've been the only part that was a bit of a surprise. (And as cool as the interior of the shiftship was in Strange Harbours, it was just as cool to get to see the full exterior this time around.)

 The shiftship takes flight.
The shiftship takes flight.

Issue 5: The Good Doctor
Here we are introduced us to the concept of Century Babies, plural. (Readers of The Authority would already have been aware, of course, due to the Jenny Sparks character there. But from a Planetary-centric viewpoint, this issue really outlines the concept in detail for the first time.) We didn't know it at the time, but we met a slew of Century Babies that issue. (And here I'll cop to a mea culpa: I steadfastly maintained for some time that Brass' people were not, by definition, all Century Babies. We now know definitively that several were.)

Another link established in The Good Doctor was that Planetary is linked to the rest of the Wildstorm universe. Both Brass and Snow knew Jenny Sparks, and that's a link to The Authority. This link was strengthen by the suspected similarity between The Authority's Carrier and Wilder's shiftship, made clear when Snow escaped the presence of Dowling by uttering the word, "door." This is how The Authority travelled to and from their Carrier.

Issue 6: It's a Strange World
This issue introduced us to The Four, including a glimpse of their origin (which included a Snowflake and the Bleed... with some details left out there, as we now know). It outlined their collective character as a group who felt that they were on an adventure that the rest of us couldn't join. It also set the tone for Snow's relationship with The Four, as he told Jakita at the time that he wanted to kill them all. That goal was effectively met this issue (with Greene exiled and Leather in the process of being somehow rehabbed). It also gave clues to the rift between Leather and the rest of The Four, as he seemed surprised at Snow's amnesia--he'd have been in-the-know had he maintained his close association with his old teammates. This was a precursor to Dowling's general self-centeredness, which even extended to Kim Suskind, as we saw as the two bickered away their last moments alive.

Issue 7: To Be in England, in the Summertime
A small contribution this issue helped continue a series-long theme of the universe as information-based: Drummer was able to sense magic and characterized it as "cheat codes" to the universe's operating system. This again echoes the idea that information determines reality.

Issue 8: The Day the Earth Turned Slower
This issue introduced us to Science City zero, whose surviving residents and descendants were pivotal in powering the shiftship that Snow used to defeat Dowling. This set up the irony of Dowling's defeat coming in no small measure as a byproduct of his lifelong quest for knowledge at other's expense. We were also introduced to the nascent alliance between Dolwing and Hark. This issue, Snow announced to Dowling that Hark had changed allegiance.

Issue 9: Planet Fiction
Nine introduced us to our first child of a Science City Zero victim, Ambrose Chase. This simple revelation set up the concept that descendants of the people that Dowling harmed would have powers of their own. And the fictional world that was visited by Dowling's underlings that issue was further proof of the informational nature of this, and any, universe: the universe Dowling's people visited was written into existence for the express purpose of exploration.

Issue 12: Memory Cloud
Issue 12 showed the first full flashback to Dowling talking to a captive Snow, about to install the memory blocks that plagued Snow throughout the series. Dowling stated then that Snow was an amusing annoyance and pest in their game. Snow inverted this relationship to goad Dowling into their final confrontation this issue, telling Dowling, "You are too small to matter to me.".

Issue 14: Zero Point
Kim suskind's dependence on her goggles to be able to see while invisible was established in Zero Point, and Snow uses that knowledge this issue to prevent her from using her invisibility against him. (It doesn't stop her from generating her potentially-lethal force fields, as we saw in Issue 14, but that's another topic altogether.)

Issue 15: Creation Songs
Issue 15 introduced us to Chase's daughter. Given the vagueness of the sequence, which included a small caped doll flying? having been thrown? past Snow's face, some of us wondered if his daughter had special powers. Whether she did or not, the notion that people with Science City Zero ancestors can have powers was a key theme this issue. The issue of an information-based universe was also explored in a different fashion in the form of the aboriginal myth of dreamtime. The Four tried to penetrate dreamtime with one information signal, but Snow's team fired additional information that changed the nature of the instructions. A rock was brought to life, to spectacular effect. This is the first instance of either team attempting to write new information to the universe with a specifically planned outcome in mind. (Drummer used Jakita's kinetic energy in Issue 3 to prompt a reaction from the information-based subsystem, and used Snow's heat subtraction in Issue 7 to coalesce a magic information signal, but this is the first time the teams used homegrown technology for this purpose. Interestingly, Brass' computer had them all beat by over 50 years.))

Planetary/The Batman: Night on Earth
The Planetary/Batman special, though really a showcase for the crossover, also showed a child of a Science City Zero. His ability was to create a localized Snowflake effect that bypassed the Bleed and rotated local space directly into an alternate earth. Though not controlled, it was an awesome power that showed how impressive the unintentional byproducts of Dowling's ambition could be. And while some might argue that as a crossover this issue was outside the standard Planetary cannon, remember that Ellis had originally intended the core elements of this story to appear as a normal issue (around issue ten or thereabouts) with an analog Batman instead of the real one. Ones. Whichever.

Issue 19: Mystery in Space
This issue was huge in pulling previous threads together to give us a reasonably comprehensive take on the universe as an informational structure, a two-dimensional thing that we subjectively experience as a three-dimensional construct. Snow referenced this concept in the current issue, marrying it to the "stack of hard drives" referenced it in issue three, to demonstrate to Dowling how irrelevant he was in the bigger scheme of things. Also, Mystery in Space showed us the first instance of a device dynamically interacting with the informational structure with the ship used to carry the "angels" to their mission: it altered local information to generate thrust. This kind of effect was echoed this issue as Snow used a device that caused "localized distortion of informational space" to cut Dowling and Suskind off from the technology they needed to fight him. And in an expansion of the concept, Snow threatened (bluffed?) that he could erase the would-be-invader's earth from the universal information structure. So in many ways, the concepts outlined of Mystery in Space tied together the great underlying theme of the series, which came to fruition this issue.

Issue 21: Death Machine Telemetry/ The Consultation
Issue 21 gave us a look at the afterlife, explained more of the purpose of Century Babies, and saw Snow lectured on how defeating The Four was not his highest and best purpose. Though Snow initially seemed to ignore Melanctha's advice, her central message was the foundation of the position Snow took this issue while goading Dowling into a confrontation. What's more, this issue saw Snow finally get past The Four to begin to truly live up to his role (both in presumably saving our earth from a later invasion, as well as announcing his plans for the remainder of his existence).

Issue 22: The Torture of William Leather
The Torture of William Leather saw Leather give Snow the information he needed to understand Dowling's motivations, ultimately letting Snow understand how to best psychologically manipulate Dowling:

  • By Snow asserting his superiority based on his status as a Century Baby, whose power is a part of him, it underscores Dowling's need to find other avenues to power; this hammered Dowling's need to feel that he was great.
  • By talking about concepts unfamiliar to Dowling, e.g. the nature of the informational universe and the afterlife, Snow rattled Dowling's sense of intellectual superiority. (This is borne out later by Suskind's remark, "You told me that he (Snow) was lucky and that on the best day of his life he only knew exactly one thing that you don't.")
  • By threatening Suskind, the only person other than himself that, according to Leather, Dowling might care about. Snow bluffed about having already killed Greene and Leather, making the threat plausible in Dowling's mind.

Issue 23: Percussion
Here we have Snow's true roll as a Century Baby confirmed as someone who saves things, as Drummer connects the dots for us. This is a role Snow fulfills this issue, saving our world and obtaining The Four's science and knowledge base (hopefully used as Drummer described in 23 to save Chase, possibly in issue 27). Further, he plans to share the wonders that The Four kept from the rest of the world.

Issue 24: Systems
Issue 24's massive exposition by Snow showed how all the pieces were starting to come together for Snow as a more cohesive picture. While this seemed at the time, perhaps, as just a way for Ellis to connect some dots for the readers, we can now see that it was also indicative of the way Snow was putting things together in his mind for strategic purposes, and perhaps foreshadowed some of the events we saw unfold this issue.

Issue 25: In from the Cold
Of course the information Snow received from Stone in Issue 25 set the stage for this issue. With a true understanding of how The Four got their powers, Snow not only understood the importance of defeating The Four like never before and gained some information useful in his one-upmanship gambit to draw Dowling out, but also learned of the additional threat he'd have to deal with even after defeating The Four.


The issue-by-issue breakdown above was only a cursory look at how themes from prior issues were pulled together this issue: concepts were given only general descriptions, and fine details were left out (many more no doubt missed). Ellis once claimed he'd developed a 24 issue story arc very early on, and more recently described the structure of this issue in an October 2005 Bad Signal

Now halfway through script for penultimate issue of PLANETARY, which is #26. I laid the plans for the last half of this issue back during the first year of the book. It almost seems too simple, now, as I connect up the dots.
One can argue that perhaps Ellis didn't plot this out as far in advance as he indicates, I suppose. But whether he plotted it from the beginning or refined his themes as he went along, think about the accomplishment here: he took a collection of terrific, though only tangentially-related, ideas and worked them around over 26 issues and several years. Allowing for the fact that if you're reading this site you're a fan of the series and therefore biased, the ideas spun over the course of the series were often unnaturally captivating, whether they were new to you or slightly different takes on older ideas. Mixed together, the result was a remarkably cohesive explanation of a universe (universes, actually) and the characters we met in it. From the superstructure to the substructure, and including the roles of the human or human-like actors in the middle, everything came together. The primary actors in his story had powers, personalities, and motivations that were varied, sometimes complex, and conflicted. But at the end of it all, everything came together into something that was so logical and natural in its conclusion that it almost seemed too easy. Whether this was planned all along or pulled together by brute force over the last few issues, it's still quite an accomplishment.

Not that this will be satisfactory for everyone who's followed the series. Some, like Jakita, will feel a bit let down that the final conflict wasn't more of a traditional, super-type throwdown. And the way Snow finally beat Dowling was a bit of a stretch (pardon the pun): Dowling had to make multiple tactical errors, including deciding to face Snow when he clearly wasn't alone as agreed; not killing Snow immediately; not killing Snow from the safety of his ship; not killing Drummer on sight; not having a backup plan; the list could go on. And since Suskind doesn't need to be using her invisibility powers to use her force field powers, why couldn't she come up with some way to use the power to save herself, or Dowling, or both of them? Or kill Snow as soon as she realized her goggles were ineffective?

On the other hand, this series has been an exploration of heroic fiction of all sorts over the last 100-plus years. And so very often, the villain makes exactly these kinds of mistakes in these kinds of stories. The Hero makes a high-risk, one-in-a-million chance to save the day, and the Bad Guy, despite holding all the cards, somehow manages to make the fatal mistake that allows the hero to triumph. So it's, like, an homage.

No?

Okay, I'd agree that part of me would have liked for the villains to have been almost as smart as the hero in this tale, and to have seen an even more over-the-top (but plausible!) way for Snow to overcome the impossible odds against him (all appears lost!) with Jakita, Drummer, Brass, Jim Wilder, Anna Hark, the Science City Zero people, Jack Carter, the thing still living on Island Zero, the Ghost Cop, Melanctha, and Ambrose Chase all brought to bear in a huge group effort (big super-throwdown--someone get me George Perez!) to save the day. It's a comic, after all. This is what they do.

But after some consideration, I think I can accept the ending as it is. It follows along with Snow's point to Jakita, late in this issue, that knowledge towards destruction is not the way. It's a suitable ending to a great series. And best of all, no one else on the field team had to die. (Given the state of the industry today, this may be the greatest shock of all.) The future actually looks bright.

Now let's see if we can get Ambrose Chase back in 27.

 Sailing into a bright future.
Sailing into a bright future.


Questions Raised
Will the superbeings with whom Dowling made his bargain still attempt to invade Snow's earth, despite his warning? Is saving Ambrose Chase the last loose thread Snow has to take care of? Will Jakita now be bored to death? Will Snow be able to stick to his resolution to quit smoking? Was Snow channeling Ellis when he said, "I feel like I've just tied off a wound that's bled for a hundred years" (with this representing Ellis' approximate feelings towards Planetary)?


RDG

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